Sep. 24th, 2016

It has taken me a long time to learn the social dynamics of shame. Do you know when I feel shame? When I ignore the voice of past-me and future-me telling me "you know you'll regret this". I did it during 2015 for several months. Then I noticed something: that is the only time I feel shame. When someone else tells me their needs and asks me to meet those needs, I usually just do that, without involving my self-image. So, I need to learn what it's like to be the kind of person whose self-image comes from outside, and who feels external shame intensely.

I've always regretted involving another person's self-image in any conflict. You know I've done it repeatedly over the years. How did that work out for me? Poorly. It worked out poorly.

When you need something, and someone else is in the way of it, shame will often get them to double-down in order to defend their self-image. It's best to avoid making their self-image seem to be at stake, when really what you want is an alliance: you need their help with something they are doing or failing to do that you don't like.

When shame does not result in defensiveness, it usually results in the paralysis of despair. When I ask someone for what I need, and all they hear is their own shame, the last thing I want to hear is "I'm a terrible person". That is kind of like telling me I will never get what I need. They are focused instead on their goodness or badness.

Even if you succeed in inflicting shame, and it does not result in despair, it is likely to result in groveling. This will serve only to annoy you, as it becomes clear this person is not paying attention to your needs, and is focused on their self-image. They want to get back to thinking of one's self as a good person. Why? Because that's where you put their attention.

Another consequence of shame is that my use of shame sets a context for what to expect from future interactions with me. From then on, everything else I ask for will be perceived as an attack, no matter how gently I word my requests. This is difficult to undo. In some circles, that is the bed I have made, and I must sleep in it indefinitely.

The saddest intimacy I can think of is two enemies who are married to each other. I watch a highly-shame-filled couple leave their needs implicit, or sort of vaguely gesture toward them, and instead attack each other's self-worth. "If only my partner has sufficient self-hatred, I'll get my needs met." All they get from this is a sort of generalized, nebulous, mutual capitulation.

Attempts to provoke shame in me usually result only in expressions of sympathy like "that sounds hard", followed by attempts to determine what the plaintiff needs in case I can provide it.

I have started to notice several people in my environment appear surprised when they see no shame. In that case, their goal (usually) is a sense of vindication, or the attainment of personal power through the moral high ground. Usually such a person loathes themselves-- they perceive mere disapproval from others as if it were a threat to the survival of their self-image. Whereas I am nearly unassailable.

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't." - Louis C.K.

You don't get to convince them that you didn't. The truth in this quote is that you do not get to unilaterally resolve the conflict. However, if I accuse you of hurting me, you actually do get to decide that you didn't. Consider what Louis C.K. is proposing in the above quote. If you believe the above quote, and if I wanted to keep you in an abusive relationship with me, I could do so with a series of groundless accusations.

So where is the balance to be found?

We each must hold ourselves accountable to hear people out when they complain. Sometimes they have a solid case, but sometimes they feel entitled to get whatever they want for no good reason. Carefully ask questions, then make up your own mind about whether the problem is caused by you. Sometimes you'll be wrong, but there's no good alternative. The only true sincere remorse is in an accurate understanding of how you caused the problem, so you can stop causing it. You cannot offload that responsibility onto your accuser.

Sometimes if I'm seeing a lot of disapproval from a person, and they can't express their needs, or their demands are based on groundless entitlement, I'll either ignore them, or just politely remove myself from the sphere in which I can negatively influence that person.

Your needs probably seem easy and obvious to you, as they usually do to most people. They are rarely easy or obvious. Conflict resolution requires sincere curiosity on the part of the defendant and communication on the part of the plaintiff.

So let me tell you something that I need: please send me a message or drop me a line and tell me what you need, and if you would like something from me that's different from what I'm doing, which you think would cause your need to be met in some way.

If you also wish to tell me about the reduction in self-image you want me to have, you may. Sometimes it's necessary to just let you be mad, and stay mad for as long as you need. Self-validation might be a kindness you need to give yourself. A kindness of validation for which you are starving. Feel free to do that for yourself as well, and I will try to respond compassionately. But I won't feel shame.

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